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5 TV episodes that show what happens when smart homes go rogue

We love our smart homes — the idea of being able to control lights, music, the thermostat, security cameras right from your phone, or smart speaker is pretty enticing. Normally, the worst that can happen when your smart home devices go rogue is the system doesn’t register your command, or maybe Alexa plays Britney Spears when you clearly asked for Tears for FearsBut what if your smart home turned against you in a much more dangerous fashion?

Frightening examples of what would happen if smart homes went nuts have been depicted in movies for decades  — 1977’s Demon Seed immediately comes to mind. And as smart homes gain more and more control, television has been getting in on the action, too. Below are 5 examples of smart homes gone nuts in TV series, from the humorous to the downright terrifying.

Editor’s note: Spoilers for each episode abound below. Proceed at your own risk.

Will & GraceWho’s Your Daddy (Season 9, Episode 2)
Will & Grace: Who's Your Daddy (NBC) Shower On CLIP

Leave it to good ol’ Karen (Megan Mullally) to have a fancy, new smart shower system installed in her apartment. The popular series reboot gets a storyline ripe for the new age, depicting Grace (Debra Messing) and Karen arguing in the bathroom, when Karen’s AI system mistakes her heated words (“I’m steamed”) for a command. As Grace chastises her friend for trying to program the system herself, they both step into the glass doors to see why something isn’t working right, all the while a continued stream of passionate words are exchanged, triggering the shower door to lock, the drain to shut off, and water to pour in. As you might guess, the main characters don’t tragically die in episode 2, but it’s a reminder of the perils of machine control that’s both funny and sobering.

The Simpsons — Treehouse of Horror XII — House of Whacks
The Simpsons - Ultrahouse 3000

The Simpsons family gets more than they bargained for when they buy a computerized upgrade for their house called the Ultrahouse 3000. Marge is lured in by the promise of a life where she’ll never have to clean again — the house and its virtual “butlers” will take care of everything. At first, the family is living it up, but it all starts to fall apart when the AI, voiced by the dapper Pierce Brosnan, falls for Marge and plots to get rid of Homer. It’s a great parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a modern, all-to0-familiar twist.

Mr, Robot — unm4sk-pt1.tc (Season 2, Episode 1)
Smart Home Hack

It was just one scene in a single episode of this compelling series, but it played out like a mini movie that started the second season off with a bang. The F-society hackers conjure up a plan to scare general counsel Susan Jacobs (Sandrine Holt) away by hacking into her smart home system and wreaking havoc. She returns home to find her alarm going on and off, the thermostat dropping dramatically, water switching from lukewarm to scalding hot in the middle of her shower, and other surreal horrors. Despite all her efforts to take control, she has no choice but to vacate. The psychological terror evoked — even without any blood and gore — makes it a brilliant bit of screen time.

The X-FilesRm9sbG93ZXJz (Season 11, Episode 7)
x files robot restaurant
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s one of the strangest episodes of the series’ reboot, and that’s saying a lot. Episode 7 serves as a clever analysis of today’s connected world that anyone can appreciate. Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) are attacked by everything from persistent robot restaurant workers (how dare you pay without leaving a tip?), to driverless cars that don’t obey the speed limit. While freaky, it approaches the topic of automation in a somewhat satirical way, and is presented as a daring examination of our obsession with tech. In a scene similar to the one in Mr. Robot, Scully finds herself fighting with a smart home that has its own ideas about which devices should be activated when, and how. For those who are into geek speak, the episode title is base64 code for “Followers.”

Black Mirror  — White Christmas (Season 2, Episode 4)
Black Mirror White Christmas
Netflix

We can all appreciate the value of a highly personalized AI system. But at what cost? In typical Black Mirror fashion , White Christmas depicts our absolute worst fears in the flesh, so to speak. In the near-ish future, consciousness can be transferred to a small chip called a Cookie that’s implanted in your brain, then transferred to an egg-shaped host device to act as a customized personal assistant for your smart home. The AI knows the most personal details of your subtlest preferences, right down to how you like your toast. How? Inside the chip is a carbon copy of your consciousness that is essentially a slave to iself (i.e. you). Does your copied consciousness refuse to play ball? No problem, there are ways of putting him/her/it in line. In this terrifying future, you will be your own personal slave — like it or not.

Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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